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U.N. Delays Its Response to Israel on Jenin Impasse


NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday after Israel refused to let a U.N. mission begin investigating the past month's battles at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, but it agreed to defer any official response until after the Israeli Cabinet held a planned second day of debate on the matter today.

Arab nations had secured support from several council members for a resolution that would call on Israel to cooperate with the investigation "without any hindrance or conditions."

But U.S. diplomats said they told a closed-door council meeting that immediate U.N. intervention could jeopardize an agreement reached with Israel on Sunday to end its siege of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters--another key demand of the Arab-backed resolution.

The council should refrain from acting until the Israeli Cabinet concluded its deliberations, the Americans argued, implicitly threatening to use the United States' veto power if the resolution's sponsors forced a vote.

Israeli diplomats resumed discussions with the U.N. on Sunday concerning the membership and agenda of the fact-finding mission, U.N. officials told the council.

"I think we ought to give them a chance to work this out with the United Nations," U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said shortly before the council meeting began.

When the council session adjourned, members said they still hoped that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be able to resolve the impasse with Israel.

"We expect a positive report by tomorrow," said Sergei V. Lavrov, the ambassador to the U.N. from Russia, which holds the rotating council presidency.

Annan's aides had informed the council Friday after two days of negotiations with an Israeli delegation here that they thought they had satisfied most substantive Israeli objections--a belief shared by Western diplomats monitoring the talks and by at least some Israeli officials, according to participants in the discussions.

On Sunday, however, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly told his ministers that he remained flatly opposed to the mission, and there were no signals from Jerusalem that Israel would soften its stance when the Cabinet took up the issue today.

There was no indication Sunday that the Bush administration has altered its position on the investigation, which it first backed in a Security Council vote 10 days ago. Although U.S. officials have urged Annan to address Israel's specific concerns about the inquiry, they have also said they expected Israel to cooperate.

The fact-finding team, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, remained in Geneva on Sunday, awaiting instructions from U.N. headquarters.

Though council members say the mission does not require Israeli approval as a legal matter, in practical terms it would be difficult to conduct the inquiry unless the Israeli army allowed the team access to the camp and let it interview Israeli soldiers and others who participated in the battle there.

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